Golf pro Clark was ahead of his time
Longtime PGA golf professional Joe Clark Sr. was a tough competitor until the end.
One of New Hampshire's leading instructors and innovators, Clark died last Tuesday in Plymouth after a long fight against cancer. But just two weeks earlier, the 82-year-old Holderness resident battled protégé Ed Deshaies in a match at Owl's Nest Resort & Golf Club in Campton, where he had served as director of instruction since 1998. And during an Aug. 8 match with Deshaies at Owl's Nest, Clark aced the fifth hole from 114 yards with a hybrid.
A former Plymouth State professor and coach who was instrumental in organizing the New Hampshire PGA chapter in the 1970s, Clark was an idea guy who never stopped looking to the future despite his declining health, said Deshaies, the longtime head pro at Concord's Beaver Meadow Golf Course.
“He was talking three weeks ago about putting a (golf) clinic together,” said Deshaies, who played golf for Clark at Plymouth State in the early 1970s. “He was always thinking and planning ahead, and I think that's what kept him going.”
A New Jersey native, Clark played baseball in the U.S. Air Force and at Florida Southern College. After graduating from Florida Southern in 1960 and earning a master's degree at Vanderbilt University, he taught and coached at a New Jersey high school before coming to Plymouth State in 1963.
While teaching courses in physical education, sports psychology and kinesiology, Clark coached soccer, baseball, junior varsity basketball and golf. He also organized the school's intramural program. As baseball coach from 1964-70, Clark led the Panthers to an 88-31 record and a 1966 conference championship. And as golf coach from 1970-82 he led the squad to three conference titles (1975, '77, '79).
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Clark worked summers as a pro at Den Brae Golf Course in Sanbornton and Mojalaki Country Club in Franklin. In 1977, at age 47, he became a PGA of America member and eventually attained PGA Master Professional status, the association's highest designation.
The developer and longtime owner of Highland Links Colony & Golf Club, a nine-hole, par-3 layout and residential development in Holderness where he also lived, Clark was a driving force behind the formation of the New England PGA section's New Hampshire chapter.
“Because of what Joe started way back when ... we still have the strongest chapter of any New England state,” said Matt Thibeault, the head pro at Manchester's Intervale Country Club and a former chapter board president. “We're the most financially sound, we have the biggest participation and we have the most tournaments. I think Joe just had a tremendous amount to do with that.”
Clark was a renowned instructor with a keen interest golf's mental side. The New England PGA named him its teacher of the year in 1999, and Golf Digest ranked him the top teacher in New Hampshire from 2000-07.
“He was an innovator when it came to the mind-body technique of golf, and he had a number of patents for training aids,” said Charlie Wheeler, the head pro at Owl's Nest.
Clark, who had a particular interest in preshot routines, often scrutinized and timed the routines of the world's best players while sitting behind the first tee at the Masters, said Thibeault, who traveled with Clark to the year's first major on a few occasions and considered him a father figure.
Among other golfers Clark influenced was his son, Joe Clark Jr., an Owl's Nest teaching pro who has won several regional tournaments and competed in a handful of Champions Tour events, including two Senior British Opens. The elder Clark was ahead of the curve on many things, including the now-popular belly putter, his son said.
“Before anybody even really used it, he was kind of messing around with it,” he said. “He'd put extensions in some shafts and use them. Of course everybody thought he was crazy.”
In recent years Deshaies took pleasure in their frequent matches at Owl's Nest, during which an ailing Clark usually played longer holes from the 150-yard markers and occasionally received mulligans.
“We did that probably 50 times over the last couple of years,” Deshaies said. “It was some pretty good quality time to spend together. ... It's been a great friendship, and we've had lots of good times. I'll miss my golf partner for sure.”